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HASEK, PECA DEALINGS WILL DEFINE REGIER'S FUTURE WITH THE SABRES

In the next month, we'll find out more about Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier.

Talk is that Regier and the Sabres are nearing a six-year extension. Regier's name had popped up a possible successor to current New York Islanders' general manager Mike Milbury, but Islanders co-owner Charles Wang said Friday that Milbury definitely would be back next season. Therefore, we'll look to the future of the Sabres.

The next month or so will help determine where the organization is headed for the next several years, so maybe the Rigases have been wisely waiting on their extension for Regier. The Sabres' future rests heavily on Regier's decisions concerning two players, Dominik Hasek and Michael Peca, links to Stanley Cup efforts past and possibly future, before the March 13 trade deadline.

Does he trade Hasek, therefore ending The Dominator's illustrious career with the Sabres for the sake of chopping salaries and developing for the future? It depends on whether the Sabres believe they are legitimate Cup contenders this year and whether the downgrade -- if there is one -- of playing Martin Biron in the playoffs this season is worth the risk.

Does he trade Peca? Captain Currency has been skating circles around the Amherst Pepsi Center, serving the Sabres no purpose whatsoever -- yet. The Sabres should be able to get a good player in return. Presumably, Buffalo wants a young (see "salaries, low") player, but you never know. It's very possible Peca goes nowhere.

Regier? It was easier cornering Bill Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky affair than finding out what he's thinking. He offers few hints about the next four weeks. He might decide to ride Hasek for a kick at the Cup this year and allow Peca to sit out the season. This much is certain: He will remain patient before making a decision.

"The focus is on the situation right now," Regier said last week. "It's on getting our level of play back to the way it was and winning some hockey games. For us to get ahead of ourselves, to speculate, is just a distraction. . . . Any speculation with respect to trades is counterproductive at this time."

There are many factors in his decision concerning Hasek. First, he doesn't even know if Hasek wants to come back -- do you, Dom? -- for another season. If he does, the Sabres must decide whether they want him back for $9.5 million. The Sabres haven't ruled out trading Hasek, who was once considered untouchable. Hasek supposedly was leaving so his kids could be raised in the Czech Republic, but that speech lost credibility long ago.

In case you haven't heard, the Sabres have the option on whether to pay Hasek's contract next season. If the Sabres pick up the option, they're going to have a tough time explaining money problems with Hasek on the payroll. Hasek could come back for less money, although the possibility would not be well received by the NHL Players' Association.

The Sabres are rich with goaltenders, which helps justify trading him in the next month. Mika Noronen is a top prospect playing in Rochester. Michigan State's Ryan Miller is considered a can't-miss. The Sabres love Biron, viewed around the league as a future star, who will make $750,000 next season. Hasek is still dangerous enough to lift a playoff team. The Sabres need to decide what team, if not their own.

Let's see, keep Hasek at $9.5 million and lose, say, $15 million? Or start the Biron Era at $750,000 and lose, say, $5.5 million with options to sign better players around him?

A worse scenario is that the Sabres keep Hasek, don't win the Cup and he retires or isn't re-signed. If that happens, they've wasted a valuable trade asset. The best scenario is keeping Hasek, winning the Cup and having him retire. If that happens, they accomplished their primary goal and he saves them the trouble of deciding whether he should stick around.

The Sabres' biggest problem with Peca is finding the right taker. Buffalo would rather keep him outside the Eastern Conference and effectively ship him to a non-playoff team in the West. Of course, this is assuming it will trade him. As staunch as the Peca has been about refusing to play again for this organization, the Sabres appear just as committed to not moving him.

Buffalo has a tricky situation here. Regier, if he decides to trade Peca, will be looking for a top player in return. He must convince another team to unload a proven player while explaining why he was unwilling to meet Peca's demands at $3.5 million.

Of course, for another team to acquire Peca, it would first need to reach a contract agreement with him. Satisfying all parties will be a major chore, so Peca could watch the entire season. There have been few talks regarding Peca.

Giving rumors Weight

You have to wonder whether the Sabres would be interested in Edmonton's Doug Weight, who is to become a restricted free agent after the season, in a package that included Peca.

Weight is making $4.3 million and likely headed for salary arbitration after the season. He could be looking at a new contract that would pay him between $5 million and $6 million next season, the last year before he's eligible for unrestricted free agency.

The Sabres might have enough money next season to pay for Weight, who many believe would make Buffalo certain Cup contenders, if they knocked Hasek and Doug Gilmour off the payroll and "saved" $12.5 million. The Oilers could use a player like Peca, who better fits Edmonton's payroll and would play away from Buffalo in the West. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe traded away All-Star MVP Bill Guerin under similar circumstances for Anson Carter.

"I don't think Kevin will be the type to go to the deadline next March and lose me for nothing. He proved that when he traded Billy," Weight said. "Kevin has to look at all the options and when you're talking a place like Edmonton the options are 10 times what they are in other places. Maybe I'll read something on the ticker on ESPN that I've been traded. Who knows?"

Weight would probably average between 20 and 30 goals, but he could be an ideal setup man for J.P. Dumont and Miroslav Satan. Weight also is an NHL All-Star who will likely play for the U.S. Olympic team, which are plusses for a Buffalo team that could use him for marketing purposes.

The spin on Bure

Panthers winger Pavel Bure pulled a caper last weekend when he left the NHL All-Star game early and blamed his departure on a nagging groin problem.

Bure booked with just less than nine minutes remaining in the game, citing discomfort. Funny, but he didn't mention a small detail about booking a flight back to Florida for 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Reporters caught up with Bure on his cell phone while he was en route to the airport.

"I've had problems with my groins, and I felt something," Bure said. "When you don't play a lot, you get cold, so I just didn't want to take any chances."

Sure enough, when he reached home, spin control continued.

"If anyone's going to be mad at anybody, I told the league they should be mad at me," coach Duane Sutter said. "I told him to take the 4:30 flight. Who's to know the game would be 3 1/2 hours long?"

Nice try, Dog. Regular-season games are rarely played in less than 2 1/2 hours, and All-Star games are always longer.

Faceoff was just before 1 p.m. Bure would have had problems making a 4:30 flight when factoring a shower, traffic around the Pepsi Center, a minimum 40-minute drive to the airport and check-in. Anyway, the word is that the Panthers booked Bure on a 6:30 flight, and he changed it to 4:30.

While we're on the subject of Bure, he played on the same line as Detroit's Sergei Fedorov in the All-Star game. Bure and Fedorov both dated tennis player Anna Kournikova in a well-publicized love triangle. Bure, usually jovial when a teammate scores, barely acknowledged a goal he set up for Fedorov.

A Low point

It might be safe to start collecting office-pool money for Ron Low's departure as coach of the New York Rangers. Low has become increasingly frustrated coaching a team loaded with overpaid stars who accomplish little.

He ripped his team and sent them through a punishing workout Wednesday, a day after the Sabres handed them a 6-3 loss in Madison Square Garden.

"I swear to God, I must speak gobbledygook or something because it doesn't seem to be getting across," Low said.

It's not a good sign -- for him.

Quoteable

Quote-machine-foot-in-the-crease-winger Brett Hull agreeing that the Stars should not pick up his $7.5 million option: "To me, that doesn't make any sense. I'm not that valuable. I'm realistic in that if we're going to get this labor issue resolved, someone has got to step up and go, 'Look, as many people are underpaid -- and (NHLPA President Bob Goodenow) is going to kill me -- there's that many that are overpaid.' "

Around the boards

They thought it would be completed before Halloween, then Christmas, then New Year's. It now appears Wayne Gretzky and developer Steve Ellman will close their purchase of the Coyotes on Valentine's Day. Somebody, please send these guys a card, with about $20 million enclosed. . . . Owners of the Flames, who bought out shares equaling 21 percent of the franchise from Ron Joyce and Grant Bartlett, say they are committed to keeping the team in Calgary. The future of the team there largely depends on whether it's feasible after the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in three years. . . . Ex-Sabre Mike Wilson started skating again with the Panthers last week. He suffered a shoulder injury Oct. 20 in a scary collision behind the net. The Panthers say he's lucky it wasn't career-ending. . . . The Senators might try to make a deal to rent Islanders defenseman Garry Galley before the deadline. . . . Rob Blake Trade Rumor of the Week: He's going to St. Louis in a package that includes either Mike Van Ryn or Barrett Jackman.

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